In his recent New Year’s address, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un claimed, “Last year, we showed off the potential of our socialist self-supporting economy.” However, Daily NK sources in North Korea are reporting that international sanctions are having a negative impact on ordinary residents, and that a large part of the problem is due to increasing demands for bribes by state officials.
“It was very hard for a while due to the sanctions, but now things are starting to improve slightly,” a North Hamgyong source told Daily NK in a telephone call on January 5. “However, those who worked in the clothing factories and seafood industry in the Rason region or in related industries have suddenly lost their economic lifeline and are struggling to earn money and cope with the cold.”
The Rason Special Economic Trade Zone’s most important industries were fisheries and garments. But following recent bans on the export of these products, some of the joint Sino-Korean businesses in the region have suspended operations, leaving their workers unemployed.
Although a ban on coal exports has caused domestic prices to drop, many of these individuals cannot even afford the cheap coal available in the markets. Numerous families are said to be shivering from the cold in their own homes.
Further exacerbating the problem is that local bureaucrats are becoming more and more unyielding in their demands as time goes on.
“The traffic police in Rason City demand food and other necessities as bribes. They recently took an entire truck’s worth of goods. The driver asked the officer to take pity on him. But the officer responded by slapping him with a 2,000 RMB (about 300 USD) fine,” one local resident reported.
He added that an increasing number of personnel from the Ministry of State Security are demanding that Chinese traders fill up their cars and motorcycles with gasoline. Those who refuse to provide the kickback are issued a “border-crossing” fine, so most Chinese merchants who enter the Rason region are reportedly paying the fine.
“Since the residents have so little to hand over for bribes, the intelligence agents and the police have turned to targeting the Chinese merchants. If the bribery problem gets worse, fewer Chinese merchants will come through the Rason region. This means that they will not be able to import cheaper products from China, and the people will suffer in the end,” he explained.